The Day of the LORD and Acts 2

Peter’s address to the Jews gathered on Pentecost is a famous passage among Christians for several good reasons. Most Christians know the story: the Jews there were assembled from “every nation under heaven” (Acts 2.5), and as the Holy Spirit fell upon the 12 apostles they began to speak in tongues, each person gathered there able to hear what was preached in their own language. Peter, standing with the eleven, preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He ends what is commonly called the first gospel sermon with these words: “Let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2.36).

We also know well the reaction of those who were gathered there. They were “cut to the heart” (v.37) or as the KJV puts it: “pricked in their heart”. The text gives us the sense that these people weren’t just concerned or interested: they were terrified at the prospect of what Peter had described to them. One good question to ask is: Why? What had Peter said that had instilled such fear in these poor people? One answer that is often given (and with which I agree) is they responded fearfully to the news that 1. Jesus was the Messiah, and 2. They had him crucified by the Romans. This would most certainly incur God’s wrath against them, and as a result they begged Peter for what they could do to change their doomed situation.

However, I don’t think that’s the whole story. While Peter’s condemnation of their uniquely heinous sin would be enough to cause them to seek God’s forgiveness and mercy, there’s something else that we often miss in this sermon. Peter begins his discourse with a lengthy quotation of Joel 2.28-32, which would point forward to the main event of that very day: the Holy Spirit being poured out on mankind. In that quotation, the prophet Joel warns his listeners about the “great and glorious day of the LORD”, which to any knowledgeable Jew should give plenty of cause for consternation.

The Day of the LORD is an event often spoken about in scripture, and almost without exception one that would not give the hearer/reader cause for celebration. The day of the LORD is one described in Isaiah as “destruction from the Almighty” (13.6, also in Joel 1.15), and “Cruel, with fury and burning anger” (13.9). Ezekiel describes this day as “a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations” (30.3).  Five times the prophet Joel uses the phrase “day of the LORD”, and every time it is not a pleasant experience. Joel 2.1 instructs Zion (Jerusalem) to “Blow a trumpet…for the day of the LORD is coming…”. When the nations are gathered together for judgment in Joel 3, that day is described as a “day of the LORD” (v.14). The day of the LORD was a day of judgment against the enemies of God and a day of salvation for anyone aligned with God.

The Jews assembled on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 would most certainly have been aware of the “day of the LORD”, as well as the appropriate response to news of that day’s arrival. After all, hadn’t the nations that had been prophesied against all fallen by that point? Each of the nations against which God had promised a “day of the LORD”, including Israel itself, had fallen according to God’s judgment. God’s final stroke against Jerusalem, their ultimate “day of the LORD” would fall in less than 40 years from this very sermon in Acts 2.

These Jews were able to put together the pieces of their judgment puzzle that Peter had laid out for them in his sermon in Acts 2. The Holy Spirit had fallen upon them. The day of the LORD was coming. Those who would call upon the name of the LORD would be saved. What reason did the Jews, the people of God, have to be concerned about this “great and awesome day of the LORD”? They had murdered the Messiah, whom God raised from the dead and made both Lord and Christ.  The Jews were the best-equipped people on earth, being the special recipients of God’s revealed will, to see their need of salvation, as well as the catastrophic consequences of being on the wrong side of the “day of the LORD”. It is therefore of little wonder why they were “cut to the heart”, and why they obeyed the message of the Gospel in droves.

So how does this help us today? Friends and brethren, salvation is of little use to those who perceive no danger. Peter’s pleas to repent and turn to the LORD might have fallen on deaf ears had he not told them the truth about God’s pending wrath and judgment against them. We as Christians cannot ignore or sidestep the certainty of God’s wrath against evil and against evildoers. Perhaps when Christians begin speaking again of the “wrath to come” (Matthew 3.7; 1 Thessalonians 1.10), our message of salvation through Jesus Christ might well be received instead of ignored. We can rest assured of one final “day of the LORD”, one which will dwarf all others. We have no shortage of Biblical assurances of this fact. The question is whether we will be honest and open about it with those for whom it matters the most. -Kyle Sanders

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.” (2 Peter 3.10)